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January 10, 2012

Food For Thought

The Epidemic Of Fever-Phobia

The knee-jerk reaction for most of us is to give kids fever-reducing medications. Have you ever taken this course of action? Most of us have.

The value of the fever was recognized thousands of years ago by both Ruphos of Ephesus and Hippocrates, the father of western medicine. They recognized that patients who developed a fever had a tremendous ability to recover from illness.

How could that be? Isn’t a fever harmful?

My Human Anatomy and Physiology book defines the fever as a “systemic response initiated by pyrogens [chemical messengers]; high body temperature inhibits microbial multiplication and enhances body repair processes.”

These are two reactions that we definitely want happening if a microorganism infects us.

So why have we gotten so obsessed with bringing down a fever?

“Studies have shown that depriving the body of its ability to develop a fever with [anti-fever medications] may prolong the illness, decrease antibody response, and increase likelihood of disease complications such as pneumonia and meningitis.”
— Exerpt from  the Child Health Guide by Dr. Randall Neustaedter

We have become obsessed with treating symptoms because we have been told that symptoms are bad. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Symptoms are downstream manifestations of an upstream issue. In other words, a fever is the result (downstream) of an immune response (upstream).

How The Fever Does A Body Good

When we are infected by a microorganism, our immune system responds by sending white blood cells to the area. The white blood cells then release chemical messengers known as pyrogens, which stimulate the hypothalamus (located in the brain) to increase body temperature.

Why would our body go through this whole process unless it was beneficial? It wouldn’t. The body doesn’t react without reason.

The benefits of increasing body temperature are two-fold. First, it speeds up the production of white blood cells, the soldiers of our immune system that “seek and destroy.” And second, the increasing body temperature creates an extremely inhospitable environment for invading microbes, causing them to die.

If the fever hasn’t elevated too high then there are certain things we can do to help slow down the fever:

  • Rest!
  • Yarrow tincture helps break a fever by working with the body rather than suppressing the symptoms.
  • Wet compress to cool down the body if fever is too high.
  • Immune boosting supplements.

Fever-reducing medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) have become the go-to treatment for fevers. Aspirin should never be used due to its risk of causing Reye’s Syndrome (severe damage to brain and liver). These drugs have a valuable therapeutic benefit if used in the right context, but are often administered prematurely.

When is Medical Intervention Warranted?

  • Infants under 3-months old with a fever greater than 100.4 F
  • Children between 3 months and 36 months with a temperature greater than 102.2 F
  • All ages with a fever reaching 105 F

Dr. Randall Neustaeder discusses how drugs should be used as a last resort for fevers only above 105 F in his book Child Health Guide.

It is difficult to watch a young child be uncomfortable, but it is important to understand that delaying drug treatment affords them a great benefit. Don’t be afraid to let nature run its course.  The body has an amazing ability to heal and repair, when we get out of the way and let it do it’s thing.

– Josh


  1. Bierman, William. The History of Fever therapy in the Treatment of Disease. Bull N Y Acad Med. 1942 January; 18(1): 65–75.
  2. Marieb, Elaine N. Human Anatomy and Physiology: Fifth Edition. Benjamin Cummings; 1999.
  3. Neustaeder, Randall. Child Health Guide. North Atlantic Books; 2005.